Tuesday, November 20, 2012


And the vision that was planted in my brain; still remains; within the sound of silence. Paul Simon

Before you hold your next brainstorming session, keep in mind that these people would NOT have been enthusiastic participants

Albert Einstein
Warren Buffet
Frederic Chopin
Charles Darwin
Mahatma Gandhi
Al Gore
Isaac Newton
Larry Page
Rosa Parks
Eleanor Roosevelt
JK Rowling
Steven Spielberg
Steve Wozniak
George Orwell
Marcel Proust
Charles Schulz
WB Yeats
Dale Carnegie

They are among the long list of inventors, creators and leaders of change who are introverts. Learn more about them through Susan Cain at Quiet

And consider the next time you are assembling a creative team that it could BE different if some of your most powerful minds gather information from the group but are allowed to do their thinking alone.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Government Directed Innovation

The final weapon is the brain, all else is supplemental. John Steinbeck

On Veterans Day our family recognized the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812 with a visit to Fort McHenry. I assumed, correctly, that I'd learn a lot about the writing of the US National Anthem and found, happily, that it would keep the kids engaged for many hours. What I had not expected was to uncover the dawn of the invention of the industrial revolution.

In a corner of a display case tucked behind a pile of cannon balls were a few rifles with a yellowed index card stating unceremoniously that these rifles were made with interchangeable parts. At the time, I understood interchangeable parts fueled the industrial revolution. What I didn't realize without some research was that the War of 1812 accelerated the commercialization of interchangeable parts.

While the idea of interchangeable parts can be traced back thousands of years, the invention is generally granted to Eli Whitney. In 1801, Whitney presented to the US Congress ten rifles, disassembled them, mixed up the parts and reassembled them.

Like many inventors, Whitney failed to commercialize the invention as he was never able to organize an economic manufacturing operation. The research costs to do so were prohibitively large, intellectual property protection was questionable, venture capital was scarce and the narrow rifle market was unlikely to create large returns on capital.

Congress, however, learned their lessons from Whitney and ordered a standardization of parts for weapons. There was a large lag in the mandate for interchangeability and the manufacturing processes to provide it. But the War of 1812 brought an urgency and Congress tasked and, more importantly, funded the Springfield Armory (a federal facility) with developing the needed processes.

"The Springfield Armory set out to solve this problem, and in the process of doing so invented the system of mass production that was to revolutionize American and world industry. By employing precise gauging and measuring of parts, breaking up complex tasks into simple steps, and devising machines to carry out repetitive operations, the Armory was able to make muskets with interchangeable part and to produce them more quickly. This achievement owes credit to the Armory's administrators and officers, but also to its shop floor workers, who contributed many important innovations, and to a network of independent contractors in the surrounding region who exchanged ideas and inventions freely with the government facility" Forge of Innovation.

While it is likely that interchangeable parts would eventually have been commercialized by capitalists, it is clear that government greatly accelerated the process by seeing the need and determining that it could BE different.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Winds of Change

"Until the Northeast gets hit hard, Congress will not pass hurricane insurance reform" then Rep. Gene Taylor of Mississippi, post-Katrina

FEMA's response to hurricane Sandy has received largely positive reviews. While not without its critics, it appears that the agency has come a long way from its inglorious hurricane Katrina performance.

I spent some time trying to figure out why and discovered a detailed report which successfully put me to sleep several times in its reading. Federal Emergency Management Policy Changes After Hurricane Katrina prepared by the highly regarded Congressional Research Service is a heartening read for anyone wanting to understand how systemic change can occur in government agencies.

The short version of the report goes something like this:

After 9/11, a large portion of FEMA's preparedness responsibilities were removed from the agency and distributed to the Border and Transportation Security Directorate and FEMA was shuffled into the rapidly growing Homeland Security Administration monster where it lost the type of autonomy needed for rapid response and was bled of its financial resources.

Through what many of us would find a slow and painful committee process, congress determined the cause of FEMA's failures and passed legislation returning FEMA to much of its post 9/11 stature and added a few bells and whistles about one year after Katrina.

It's easy to be skeptical of government, but there's substantial evidence that it could BE different.